Emily Thornton, Artist in Zambia  

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In these strange days we’ve been spending some cyber time with our artists to see what they’re getting up to in the new world order.  So over the next few weeks we're going behind the scenes into their studios to focus on their lives, work and the creative process that goes on beyond the gallery walls.

This week we’re starting with the abstract artist Emily Thornton who has spent the last two years working in Zambia and is now living in a new world of sewing face masks for Government hospitals, rumours around lockdown and fruitful studio living.


Emily Thornton moved to Zambia in 2018 and is now happily settled living near Lusaka.  Having been teaching once a week at the local school, Emily now spends two days a week sewing face masks for the Government hospitals. Within a community of 60 others, they have already made 10,000 face masks and are set on making another 10,000 more. The rest of her time is spent back in her studio where Emily lives and works looking out over the Zambian bush.  

Moving to Zambia has been a life-changing experience.  ‘You allow yourself time - time to appreciate things, to watch the sunset. I have never felt more comfortable in myself and this has been translated into my work.'

Emily’s paintings are led by emotion and her work is charged with memories and feelings drawn directly from the landscape. It is this depth of feeling that radiates through her paintings, as each piece sets out to reaffirm that ‘people’s experiences of landscapes, emotions and memories are entirely connected.’


Being surrounded by the colour, light and intensity of the African seasons, ‘Zambia has given me the space to reconnect with myself.’  It has been a journey of acceptance where, away from the noise of London, ‘there is time to think, to know myself and understand what matters.’

Hot, Oil on Board, 40 x 40cm, £975

At the heart of all Emily's painting is also an ‘obsession with colour and the need to discover new ways to express balance and tone.’ There is a constant quest to explore how each colour reacts and interacts with each other. ‘Often a single anomalous element of colour, found nowhere else in the painting, can anchor the equilibrium of an entire composition.’


Recently working on a larger scale has also brought an ever greater sense of freedom. 'Bigger canvases mean bigger brushes, physically it’s more demanding working around the canvas and there is more energy, more movement and expression.’

Fresh off the easel this week - Physical, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 100cm

Unsurprisingly Emily’s time in Zambia has been intensely creative, ‘making work I love and feel excited by.’  Her solo show ‘Under the Sun’ in London last September was a fantastic success and standing in that exhibition, surrounded by such incredible colour, energy and warmth, was a total joy. 


Having been lucky enough to meet Emily just before she moved to Zambia I have loved seeing her work thrive during this time.  Not only is there the exotic thrill of new paintings arriving straight from her studio in Zambia into my office in London and up on to the gallery walls; being amongst Emily’s work, seeing the wonderfully positive and emotional responses they bring, is incredibly powerful and uplifting. 

Emily at her solo show 'Under the Sun' in London, September 2019

Right now, stocked up on canvases, boards and paint as they wait for news of possible lockdown, Emily explains life is a strange mix of anticipation and calm.

There is time for sewing, reading and cooking.  Following a period of reflection after the intensity of her show last year, there is also a new sense of direction in her painting.  
Fired-up and excited by her latest work, Emily explains ‘I’m so relieved to have found this escapism, contentment and peace at the end of a day’s painting.’

Talking to Emily, i
t is also clear that in the midst of everything that is going on, this connection to life in her studio surrounded by the landscape and local community, comes with the calming assurance that right now, ‘Zambia is home.’

For more information on Emily Thornton and a portfolio of work go to
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